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Dear Chairman Leatherman and Members of the Committee: We strongly urge the Senate to reject funding cuts, approved by the South Carolina House of Representatives, imposed on the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate, because of objections to assigned reading. The proposed cuts of $52,000 and $17,142, respectively, represent the amounts spent on reading programs for incoming students; some members of the legislature object to the programs’ spending because selected books contain lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender themes. Penalizing state educational institutions financially simply because members of the legislature disapprove of specific elements of the educational program is educationally unsound and constitutionally suspect: it threatens academic freedom and the quality of education in the state, and could well expose the state to potential liability on First Amendment grounds. It is axiomatic that government officials may not inhibit the expression of ideas and opinions simply because they dislike or disapprove of them. “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 414 (1989). “[A]bove all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.” Police Dep’t of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 92, 95 (1972). These principles have particular force in an academic setting: Our Nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. That freedom is therefore a special concern of the First Amendment, which does not tolerate laws that cast a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom…. The classroom is peculiarly the “marketplace of ideas” …. “Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.” Keyishian v. Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, 385 U.S. 589, 603 (1967) (citations omitted). A larger interest is served by enforcing Constitutional principles in the academy: “educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.” West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 638 (1943). The presentation of an idea in an academic setting is not an endorsement, any more than a museum’s decision to display a religiously-themed work implies endorsement of a religious view by the museum. Students are free to agree or disagree with what they read and hear in a university setting. And they do, often vigorously, as anyone
who has set foot on a vibrant college campus in recent past is well aware. Moreover, it is the right of faculty, based on their disciplinary and pedagogical expertise, to develop curriculum and assign books free of outside political interference by legislators who lack such expertise. Cf. Demers v. Austin, No. 11-35558, --- F.3d ----, 2014 WL 306321, at *7 (9th Cir. Jan. 29, 2014) (holding that academic speech by public university faculty is protected under the First Amendment); Adams v. Trs. of the Univ. of N.C.-Wilmington, 640 F.3d 550, 562 (4th Cir. 2011) (same). The proposed budget cuts undermine the fundamental mission of higher educational institutions, which is critical analysis and free and unfettered debate. Lawmakers may not be best equipped to make informed curricular decisions or to assess the pedagogical value of instructional materials; allowing political pressure to interfere with the education offered in state institutions will only destroy confidence in those institutions. Legislative efforts to control discussion and debate in a university setting are ill-advised, both legally and educationally. They would erode academic freedom, compromise the quality of education, and violate a basic tenet of the First Amendment: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion.” West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette 319 U.S. at 642. We strongly urge you to retain full funding to the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate. Sincerely,
Joan Bertin, Executive Director National Coalition Against Censorship Rosemary G. Feal, Executive Director Modern Language Association Chris Finan, President American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression Judy Platt, Director Free Expression Advocacy Association of American Publishers Barbara Jones, Director Office for Intellectual Freedom American Library Association
Victoria Middleton, Executive Director ACLU of South Carolina Henry Reichman, First Vice-President and Chair, Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure American Association of University Professors Trevor Dawes, President Association of College and Research Libraries Charles Brownstein, Executive Director Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Kent Williamson, Executive Director National Council of Teachers of English